The Australian Burden of Disease Study undertaken by the AIHW provides information on the burden of disease for the Australian population, as well as for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. The study builds on the AIHW's previous burden of disease studies and disease monitoring work and provides Australian-specific estimates for 200 diseases and injuries, grouped into 17 disease groups, for 2003 and 2011. It also provides estimates of how much of the burden can be attributed to 29 different risk factors.

The summary measure of burden of disease analysis is the DALY. One DALY is one year of 'healthy life' lost due to illness and/or death. The more DALY associated with a disease or injury, the greater the burden. DALY are estimated for every occurrence of every disease and then added together for the whole population, to indicate the total disease burden. The DALY is produced by combining the non-fatal and fatal burden together. People generally experience more burden as they age.

Non-fatal burden is expressed as years lived with disability (YLD). YLD measures the proportion of healthy life lost due to living with a disease in a given year, and is influenced by the number of people with each disease, how long they spend living with it and how severe the effects are. Mental and substance use disorders and musculoskeletal conditions accounted for 46% of the non-fatal burden in males and 47% in females in 2011.

Fatal burden, expressed as years of life lost (YLL), measures years lost between the age at which a person dies and the number of years they could have potentially gone on to live, based on the current best life expectancy across the world. Cancer (33% males; 36% females) and cardiovascular diseases (23% in both males and females) accounted for the majority of the fatal burden in 2011.

The attributable burden is the amount of burden that could be avoided if the risk factor were removed. The 29 separate risk factors analysed in the study were selected because they are modifiable, with strong evidence that they are linked to diseases that occur in Australia. While it is an extensive list, it does not cover all potential risk factors. The leading risk factors contributing to disease burden were smoking, being overweight or obese, high alcohol use, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure.

Information on the health impacts and distribution of different diseases, injuries and risk factors is important for monitoring population health and providing an evidence base to inform health policy and service planning. Burden of disease information can also be used to measure the health impact of interventions, and to highlight which diseases or risk factors to focus on when investigating the cost-effectiveness of programs and interventions.

The AIHW is currently working on extending the findings reported in the ABDS 2011 to provide greater detail on the impact due to specific diseases of interest, and to produce enhanced estimates for selected risk factors based on the latest evidence, and variations by sub-national levels (for example, by socioeconomic group).